Monday 30 October 2023

Caspian Gull & Yellow-legged Gull type (or is it?)

Some rather enjoyable Sunday gulling!

Not something I necessarily foresaw myself writing when I first got into birds over 20 years ago, but this year I've easily spent more time scouring gulls than any other group of birds. With the dodgy weather I thought I'd chance a visit to Tower Hide between deliveries, and aimed for low tide. However, with all the floodwater the river was pretty full, hardly any mud, and essentially no gulls; they were on nearby fields instead. As the tide was coming in, the water level gradually dropped (floodwater clearing made a much bigger difference than the incoming tide!) and gulls did start to trickle in.

A gorgeous 1st winter Caspian Gull was amongst the first 30 big gulls to drop in. Quite large, between Herring Gull and GBBG in size, and also ringed. This hung around for a while but was reluctant to flap, which became frustrating as more gulls were coming in which I wanted to check, but I also didn't want to miss getting the Casp in flight. Sure enough there was indeed another interesting gull as soon as the Casp had departed, then the cycle continued where I wanted to check more gulls but not take my eye off of this new bird!

Ringed as a chick in Netherlands on 19th May 2023, ta to Steve for chasing up the ring info

The 2nd bird then. The dark mantle and general heft instantly caught my attention, heavy bill too. My general feeling was 3rd winter Yellow-legged Gull, but I've not previously seen YLG ages other than adult (only 2), 1st winter (a few) and juv (somewhere between 20-30), so it would be a new age for me. About 45 mins in watching this bird Steve rang to say he was on an interesting gull, and it turned out to be exactly what I'd already been looking at. He mentioned that the leg colour was odd for 3w YLG (this bird was clearly pink) and we both noted the interesting head streaking, which at times looked quite restricted and other times more extensive. It took some waiting but it performed superbly right in front of Tower Hide so there's a heap of pics to come. I'll just add a couple here for the time being, I'm in the middle of work really (yes, at 01:30 am). The bird to me looks (I mean visually not genetically) sorta halfway between YLG and Azorean, and Steve suggests that it may be a YLG from the Atlantic coast, but not Azorean, but not currently sure. I've sent it to another couple of gullers and there's also a shout for argentatus Herring Gull. More digging needed, and certainly an interesting bird. I've got pics of just about every aspect of it. Eye-ball included.

Friday 29 September 2023

Barred Warbler - what a week on patch!

Monday: HUGE display of Northern Lights visible UK-wide

Tuesday: 2 Glossy Ibis briefly visit BHM 

Thursday: Caspian Gull on the estuary

Friday: Barred Warbler (found by Tim Clark).

I couldn't get to Colyford Common until 17:30 ish, and got frustrating views of its rear end disappearing into the bushes not long after I arrived. 18:05 and I got a superb view of it, quite fortunate though as my position a bit further away from the hedge was the only spot where it was possible to see amongst the branches, and if my bins weren't already pointing at that exact spot, I'd likely have missed it. I quickly said to the others to stand in front of me so they could see it but as is often the case with warblers, it was only in that spot for 5 secs or so, and it then melted away into the bush not to be seen again before I left at 19:00.

Not a bad week. Couple days left too, in which I hope to escape work for a couple of hours...

Caspian Gull

It finally happened. I've checked the gulls countless times recently trying to pick out something decent, and have done okay with a few YLGs, but this afternoon had a much nicer prize in store. A stunning Caspian Gull. I've not seen many, but instantly this bird jumped out at me as 'Casp' despite being mostly hidden in the gull flock. Closer inspection had me a little more conservative as the bill looked dinky at times, but otherwise it felt good to me. I popped a quick message to Steve Waite as he's our most experienced Casp-er here and he wasn't completely convinced it was pure either based on the BOC (back of camera) pics I sent. I couldn't send much as I didn't want to lose the bird, or miss the chance at some pics which might be needed to clinch it later. 

Anyway, it was one, and the rest is history. Really nice looking bird too! 

Thursday 28 September 2023

2 Glossy Ibises - Black Hole Marsh

My evening visits to BHM/Coly Marshes are getting a little more difficult now with the nights rapidly drawing in, but they are still proving fruitful. Tuesday evening yielded 2 Glossy Ibises not long before sunset (although it was already pretty dark as it was cloudy). I'm surprised these pics came out OK, the conditions and settings were pretty hideous with ISO up at 25,600 at times!

Their visit was rather brief; they soon flew off over the river and out of sight, but I was glad that Steve, Ian and Tim C managed to dash down in time to see them (but only just for the latter 2 gents)!

Tuesday 26 September 2023

NORTHERN LIGHTS dancing over the River Axe

I have a heap of bird stuff to catch up with on here, and had a couple of Glossy Ibis put in a brief appearance at Black Hole Marsh tonight too! This post has to be about the Northern Lights though. The huge solar activity in 2023 continues; this is the 5th time I've seen aurora locally this year, and 3 of those displays were extreme.

It was raining when I headed out, and activity had died down significantly but I had to chance it. Bloody good job I did too because at 02:50am on Monday September 25th, this happened...

Sunday 24 September 2023

Great Shearwater

This was stressful. It was stressful at the time because I finished work late on a day when the sea was extremely busy with locally rare birds in parts of Devon. It was stressful again today when a memory card problem has meant that I've lost ALL of the semi-decent pics of this bird, as well as of a stonking adult YLG at point blank from Saturday evening, landed, preening, in flight, the lot. Non-retrievable unless I cough up hundreds of £££, and even then it's only a chance (Sony is very destructive with files, in a way unlike any other camera manufacturer). Absolutely gutted.

2 pics, as fortunately I ran out of space on the first card, and those few images were safe. I had much, much better though, including action shots of it getting harassed by gulls, and of it sat on the sea. I need something rarer ASAP to make me feel better...

Thanks and congrats to Steve for finding the Great Shearwater!

Other recent finds from me which I'll cover in a post when poss:

Sept 10th - Pectoral Sandpiper on BHM

Sept 17th - YLG from Tower Hide, 11+ Ruff on BHM a big increase for that evening

Sept 23rd - YLG (adult, only my 2nd) from Tower Hide

Sept 24th - YLG from Tower Hide

General - we've had 1 to 2 Little Stints and a Curlew Sand around for a while now.

Wednesday 28 June 2023

Avocets breed at Black Hole Marsh

Well the news is out! We had a pair of Avocets prospecting an island on BHM in May, and mating regularly. Come the start of June, they were taking it in turns to sit on the nest, one more than the other, so I figured all being well we'd get chicks somewhere between 24th and 27th. Sure enough, the first 2 hatched on 26th, and a 3rd on 27th! An adult did go and sit on the nest again after the 3rd hatched, so perhaps there's another yet to come, time will tell.

Thursday 4 May 2023

2 Pochards

The year that keeps on giving. I popped to BHM between deliveries on Wednesday evening and had a quick look (mainly listen, they were very vocal) for the 4 Wood Sands that had been found by Sue S earlier. As I was leaving to head back out for deliveries, I spotted 2 ducks flying in from the south, and a quick look through the bins had me thinking possibly Pochard. Pochard are decent here, and the initial views were far from ideal but they came a bit closer and pics soon confirmed. 

We've had a few more over the years, but these were only the 2nd and 3rd Pochards I've seen on patch here. I nipped back for another look on my way home (sunset time, dull night, hardly any light) and they were settled on BHM so I grabbed a few more snaps.

It wasn't worth getting up at 5am this morning, especially as I was up til nearly 3am as always... BHM was naff. Water is too high which doesn't help. The only highlight came at Seaton Marshes with a single Yellow Wagtail. Colyton gave another highlight later with another Red Kite over at 13:00.

Friday 28 April 2023

Night Heron

A bird that most of the local patchers have been in search of for a while now given the recent influx, but it was Steve Waite who came up with the goods and found a Night Heron. It was nice to watch it on Borrow Pit island before it flew south and into the mist, calling. Obscured for pics but it doesn't matter, I was just pleased to see one; my first that isn't captive. Cheers Steve!

What a year we're having for local rarities.

Wednesday 19 April 2023

More arrivals

Another quick, showery dash to BHM after work proved fruitful with an LRP and Ringed Plover there, later joined by another LRP picked up initially on call (same as yesterday, nice that they announce themselves). I wonder if these are the same 2 I had yesterday morning, or another 2 plus the Ringo... The Black-winged Stilt was still showing, albeit about as far away as possible whilst still actually being on BHM itself.

A march up to Coly Common yielded 2 Swan Geese (what's the origin?) and 9 Whimbrel, my 1st of the Spring. 

And to bring some life to this quick post, here's another image of the Black-winged Stilt from Monday morning. 

Monday 17 April 2023

Black-winged Stilt


A BirdGuides alert went out at 12:53 on Sunday 16th saying Black-winged Stilt at Seaton Marshes, so mild panic ensued, especially as I had Olivia (my daughter) to myself and she was approaching nap time. I didn't see the report for a few mins, but alerted the locals ASAP knowing that some would likely be able to get there before me. Steve was first on scene and sure enough, a stonker of a Black-winged Stilt was on Black Hole Marsh.

It's a bird we've been long overdue here. There've been several fairly close either side of our patch, and with this influx this year, chances were relatively high, and sure enough it finally happened. 

At 2 y/o Liv saw her first Black-winged Stilt (although she was far more interested in my camera), and thankfully she behaved impeccably despite the crowd. Carrying her as well as a heavy backpack whist rushing between hides after 5 days of very little sleep wasn't easy mind...

I popped back in the evening to check if the bird was seemingly staying or not, and picked up Susie enroute to make sure she got a chance to see it. 5am alarm the next day and onsite well before sunrise proved worthwhile, and a disgusting number of shots later...

Only other thing of note from me were 2 Little Ringed Plovers on the morning of Monday 17th. I picked them up on call and heard them for a good 10 seconds before eventually seeing them flying north of BHM.

Many more photos and some videos to come...

Tuesday 11 April 2023

Lesser Yellowlegs at LORP

Amazingly, the first Lesser Yellowlegs I've seen! I'm really not into twitching off patch, but at under 30 mins away I couldn't resist paying this one a visit (twice in fact). In truth, I also wanted to familiarise myself with the Lower Otter Restoration Project site as it's done fairly well recently, so it was one to get 'on my radar'.

I wasn't too bothered about the photos, and it was certainly rather challenging. The bird was generally pretty distant (the images are cropped massively, showing approx 2-5% of the original pixels), my first visit was at sunset, and my second visit had very poor conditions (severe atmospheric distortion, and hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of people). Still, very smart bird and a joy to watch.

Now, if we can get one at Black Hole Marsh please, I'll enjoy it at least 50x as much as this one... 

Monday 27 March 2023

NORTHERN LIGHTS from southern UK

Whilst primarily a birding blog, I just have to post this. Aurora Borealis is rarely seen, to any extent, from my latitude near the south coast in East Devon. There was a truly exceptional level of activity on the night of Thursday 23rd into Friday 24th March, caused by a CME (coronal mass ejection) a few days prior.

Long story short, I stayed up the entire night (then went to work, ~ 41 hours awake straight), and took images that I never thought would be possible near home, the like of which have almost certainly never been taken here before. 

I have a lot of images to go through but they'll have to sit on the hard drives for a bit, but hopefully you enjoy these as a taster:

Friday 6 January 2023

I've never been so pleased to see a wagtail!

I admit to being moderately frustrated on Christmas Day; an apparent Eastern Yellow Wagtail had been found by John Gale on Colyford Common, about an hour after me leaving that same site. I'd been hoping ever since that I'd get a chance to see it, and a chance I got! With afternoon seeming the best bet from the few reports, I scheduled the day (Thurs 5th) around me spending some time at Coly Common. It was my daughter's 2nd birthday, and I had quite a bit of 'my own' work to do, so I told 'my other' work that I wasn't going to be in. Good move!

At 14:40 ish I heard, distantly, a Yellow Wagtail ish call. I've not got any first hand experience of EY Wagtail calls, but anything sounding vaguely like Yellow Wagtail at this time of year is interesting, and this had to be the bird. It flew over Coly Common from the west, and continued east beyond the tramline and towards the river. At this point I was concerned that that was going to be it. I did manage a couple of VERY ropey pics of it as it flew over, but fortunately it did the right thing and flew to the wires at Coly Common a couple of minutes later. It was distant at first, near the reedbed loop (I was on the main boardwalk), but even so this was very clearly the apparent Eastern Yellow Wagtail that had been seen on 3 previous occasions. 

A few more people arrived and then, much to our gratitude, the bird flew over and dropped down relatively close, maybe 40-50ft from where I was standing. It was pretty obscured by grass, but I didn't care, it was a relief to see it well. An 'I can't believe it' moment came when it found the Issy Wheatear, and they were in the same frame through the camera... At least at that point the Issy wasn't being totally ignored anymore! Is that two 2nds for Devon, on the same patch of grass, at the same time? Incredible.

Monday 2 January 2023

Isabelline Wheatear reappears!

Well hello again. This was a pleasant surprise, after its apparent absence since Boxing Day! Susie spotted the Isabelline Wheatear back on Coly Common this morning, much to the delight of quite a few birders, especially those listing. Just a brief visit from me as it was a Daddy daughter day whilst the misses got triple pay for Bank Holiday. Missing the presumed Eastern Yellow Wagtail later in the afternoon hurt though, and my Dad missed it by minutes. It's here somewhere, but none of us have had any luck finding it's 'usual spot' yet...

And a headshot from Boxing Day:

Sunday 1 January 2023

January 1st Patch Birding

1st of January, a day that wherever possible goes in the diary as a patch birding day!

Steve Waite had a Great White Egret land on BHM early morning, which fortunately was still about later & I managed to catch up with in the afternoon. It was perched, rather unusually, on a house... I'm not sure if this is the bird I had on December 26th or not, as someone else said they'd seen it on a rooftop late December. I haven't seen any pics good enough to be able to compare; mine from today were absolutely terrible as I was at Seaton Marshes, and the bird was on a house west of Black Hole Marsh! Similar distance to the Marsh Harrier which was a nice surprise today.

I'd been hoping to get the Dartford Warbler which has been about, but elusive, for a few weeks now; a bird I've not managed to see on patch yet, and it'll stay that way for the time being.

So, how bad a standard of pics do we want to see on this blog? A photo-less post just looks a bit lame in my opinion, but the photos from today are lame too. I'd say my priority balance has swung to more like 95% birder 5% photographer these days. I like photos for records, I like photos to help with ID, and occasionally I like to try and get nice photos of a nice bird.

So, lame photos are a go-go. To make this extra lame, the pics probably aren't worth getting off the camera, so I'll post a BOC (back of camera) pic taken on my phone instead...